For the upcoming television series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” executive producer/director Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story,” “Feud: Bette and Joan,” “The People vs. O.J. Simpson”) has set out to tell the story of Andrew Cunanan, the spree-killing sociopath who murdered the late fashion designer on the steps of his mansion 20 years ago.
“I think the thing about ‘American Crime Story’ is that we’re not just doing sort of a crime,” Murphy said at the Television Critics Press Tour. “We’re trying to talk about a crime within a social idea. And this was always interesting to us because the idea was that Versace, who was [Cunanan’s] last victim, really did not have to die.”
What gets discussed in the series is homophobia—which Murphy notes, was how Cunanan was able to successfully make his way across the U.S. and kill these victims, many of whom were gay.
“Homophobia, particularly within the various police organizations that refused in Miami to put up ‘wanted’ posters, even though they knew that Andrew Cunanan had probably committed many of these murders and was probably headed that way, all of which we deal with in the show. I thought that that was a really interesting thing to examine, to look at again, particularly with the president we have and the world that we live in.”
The series is based on a book by Maureen Orth, called “Vulgar Favors,” which indicated that Cunanan had HIV, though publicly, this was disputed by the family.
About that time period and the stigma surrounding HIV, Murphy said: “You could literally lose your business, lose everything that you had. You could be fired. This company that Versace had was about to go public, and he was terrified of anything coming out negative about his personal life. We delve into that in the show.
Murphy continued: “It was a huge thing to announce that [Versace] was gay and out of the closet, which he did in an interview. So all of that has a ripple effect…the Versaces will like some of what we do, and some of it they will be uncomfortable about….I don’t think there should be any stigma or shame attached to HIV at all…And I think there really was, and we address that head on.”
With period pieces like “Versace” and the Emmy nominated, “Feud,” which profiles the behind-the-scenes rivalry of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford on the set of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” Murphy feels “obligated” to be accurate with all the details.
To that end, FX recreated the former Miami home of the late fashion designer, which has since been turned into a $1,000+ a night hotel. Earlier this year, the cast—Ricky Martin, who plays Antonio D’Amico, Versace’s longtime partner, Penelope Cruz, (Donatella, Versace’s sister) Darren Criss (Cunanan) and Edgar Ramirez—went on location; Versace’s bedroom and closets that he personally created will be among the scenes in the film.
“We were lucky enough to be able to get inside there and film in that…It was really an amazing opportunity to be able to go in there. We did a tremendous amount of research, down to the backpack that Cunanan had, and what was his shoelace like. And that, to me, is one of the joys of the work, to really get it right. I think we did get it right with this show, because we cared. We wanted to do honor to him.”
While Versace’s former lover, Antonio, initially expressed concern about the series, Murphy indicated that he has had a change of heart.
“Ricky [Martin] spoke to him today, and he was very great and excited to talk to Ricky. My point of view about that is I think it’s very hard to judge anything that you’re watching based on a paparazzi photograph, which is apparently what his judgment was about. And I think when you’re doing a show like this, or a show like ‘O.J.,’ you’re not doing a documentary. You’re doing a docudrama. So there’s always certain things you take liberty with, particularly, and the movement of wanting to move toward something emotional, at least for me.”
In the series, Edgar Ramirez plays Versace, a complicated character that changed the world of fashion.
“For the first time, [Versace] combined sexiness and glamour and opulence, like no one has ever done before…. He could see the sexiness of the ’70s, and then all the opulence of the ’80s, and he sensed that in the ’90s. He combined it, and everybody went crazy,” Ramirez noted.
He added: “It’s very interesting how the story captures not only a very dramatic, amazing story that needs to be told, but how it captures the spirit of the time. It’s something that also has a lot to do with Ryan’s work. And I’m a huge fan of that—movies, products, content that not also tell compelling stories, but also capture the zeitgeist and the spirit of the time that speak about greater subjects going on in society.”